General Synod, Civil Partnerships and a possible way out…
Who saw this piece in the Sunday Times this weekend?
THE Church of England is facing a new rift over homosexual clergy with the disclosure that more than 50 gay or lesbian priests have â€œmarriedâ€ in civil partnership ceremonies.
Traditionalists and evangelicals opposed to gay clerics said this weekend they would force open debate of the issue at Februaryâ€™s meeting of the General Synod. Campaigners have criticised bishops for shying away from enforcing the churchâ€™s policy of ensuring gay clergy are celibate before they are given authorisation to enter civil partnerships.
In some sense it’s the same old, same old, going over the same ground we did last year when Civil Partnerships were introduced and we got into a bit of a strop over the Bishop’s Pastoral Letter. The thing is though, that letter said that Bishops would seek assurances that clergy who entered into Civil Partnerships were not involved sexually. And while the likes of Jeffrey John, while teaching against what the Church of England believes, can at least be given some respect for sticking to the rules as they are. Paul Collier on the other hand seems to be different:
Paul Collier, a chaplain at Goldsmiths College, London, and a member of the Crown Nominations Commission, said he had had little questioning from Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Woolwich, when he entered into a civil partnership with his companion of seven years: â€œHe wanted me to acknowledge the policy of the bishops. I told him that I understood their policy.â€
Asked if Chessun had inquired about the nature of his relationship, Collier said: â€œWe didnâ€™t go into any great detail about that.â€
“Didn’t go into detail?” My dear Rev Collier (and Rt Rev Chessun for that matter), the Bishop’s Letter says that you need to between you go into detail and confirm that the relationship isn’t sexual.
But there might be a way out of this current Church of England Fudge. Section 16 of the Sexual Orientation Regulations 2006 (as implemented in Northern Ireland yesterday) gives specific exemptions for Religious Organisations from discriminating on the grounds of sexual orientation. So, while previously the Church of England couldn’t legally make having a Civil Partnership a bar to ordination or licensing as a minister, if the Act came into law in the mainland worded identically to Northern Ireland, would the Church of England now be able to disbar it’s clergy from entering Civil Partnerships? I mean, subsection 16:3 says:
(3) Nothing in these Regulations shall make it unlawful for an organisation to which this regulation applies, or for anyone acting on behalf of or under the auspices of such an organisation to which this regulation applies â€”
(a) to restrict membership of the organisation;(b) to restrict participation in activities undertaken by the organisation or on its behalf or under its auspices;
(c) to restrict the provision of goods, facilities and services in the course of activities undertaken by the organisation or on its behalf or under its auspices; or
(d) to restrict the use or disposal of premises owned or controlled by the organisation,
in respect of a person on the ground of his sexual orientation.
which as far as I can see seems to pretty well cover it with regard of ignoring being accused of being discriminatory. Is it time therefore for the House of Bishops to reverse it’s ruling and to say that clergy cannot enter Civil Partnerships, given that last year General Synod affirmed the Windsor Report which itself unequivocally affirms Lambeth 1998 1:10? Any lawyers want to offer opinion on this one?